On August 2, 2023, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced its plans to deliver 1800 vials of Diphtheria Antitoxin (DAT) to Nigeria to aid in the response to the diphtheria outbreak in the country. The WHO country representative, Dr. Walter Mulombo, revealed this information during a joint press conference held in Abuja, which was organized by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency.
Additionally, Dr. Mulombo informed that Nigeria would also receive Erythromycin within two weeks, subject to government authorization. Erythromycin is an essential antibiotic required for treating bacterial infections, and its timely delivery is crucial for saving lives and reducing complications in affected patients.
The request for the procurement of DAT and Erythromycin IV was made to WHO by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Diphtheria antitoxin, composed of antibodies, is specifically used to treat diphtheria, a serious bacterial infection that affects the nose, throat, and sometimes the skin.
As of July 27, 2023, Nigeria reported a total of 836 diphtheria cases and 83 deaths across various states, including Cross River, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Lagos, Osun, Yobe, and the Federal Capital Territory. Disturbingly, from May 2022 to July 2023, approximately 2,455 suspected diphtheria cases have been reported in 26 states across the country.
To combat this outbreak, WHO, in collaboration with the Nigeria Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Programme, has deployed a team to Yobe and Kano states. Their objective is to improve surveillance at both health facilities and community levels. Furthermore, WHO is actively supporting the procurement of laboratory commodities to expedite result turnaround times. This will aid in early case detection and management.
Eduardo Celades, the UNICEF Chief of Health in Nigeria, expressed concern over the high number of zero-dose children in the country, making Nigeria home to the second-largest number of such children globally. Efforts have been made to reach approximately 150,000 children so far, but more needs to be done to protect these vulnerable populations. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has played a role in the resurgence of diphtheria in the country, putting zero-dose children and under-immunized individuals at risk.
In response to the outbreak, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, under the guidance of Dr. Faisal Shuaib, has activated a comprehensive response plan. This plan includes early case detection, containment of the spread, and prevention of further transmission through a multi-phased strategy.
Phase one of the response plan will cover 25 Local Government Areas (LGAs) across Bauchi, Katsina, Yobe, and Kaduna, commencing on August 7, 2023, and continuing until August 11, 2023. Phase two will extend the outbreak response to 171 LGAs in Kano, Katsina, FCT, Yobe, Kaduna, and Bauchi. Additionally, targeted outbreak responses will be carried out in LGAs across eight states: Jigawa (eight LGAs), Borno (four LGAs), Osun (four LGAs), Lagos (three LGAs), Zamfara (three LGAs), Gombe (three LGAs), Plateau (one LGA), and Nasarawa (one LGA).
The WHO, UNICEF, and NPHCDA, in collaboration with other stakeholders, are committed to working tirelessly to control the diphtheria outbreak in Nigeria and protect the health and well-being of its citizens. Timely delivery of essential medications, improved surveillance, and widespread vaccination efforts are key components of this comprehensive response plan. The collaboration between national and international health organizations is essential to effectively combat and prevent the spread of this potentially deadly disease.